What’s the Difference Between a Kick Sled and a Dog Sled?

In my line of business, one of the most common questions I’m asked is: What’s the difference between a kick sled and a sled? This question comes from people who have a dog or two and have been toying with the idea of mushing. When doing their buying research, the options that most commonly pop up are a dog sled or a kick sled – which do they choose?

Well, there is no simple answer, unfortunately… but I am going to help narrow down your pick with a few handy hints.

Let’s start with the dogs. Assuming your dog who is 40 lbs or over, you can safely mush with your dog. I don’t mean to be sizeist, but generally speaking, a dog under 30 lbs might not have a sturdy enough frame to be able to pull a sled safely. I know, I know; there are plenty of small dogs who would make eager pullers, but putting that much strain on such a small frame can have long term consequences! Is it worth it? I’d have to say “No.”

Without further ado, let’s get into the meat and potatoes portion of this debate:

1kick sleds vs dog sleds

Kick Sleds

There are a variety of kick sleds on the market. Basically, a kick sled looks like a chair mounted on a pair of flexible runners. The runners are about 6.5 feet long, and the chair section folds down for storage. They don’t fold flat, but they do fold low enough that I have been able to fit 10 into my Honda!

A kick sled is designed to be propelled by human-powered kicking (which explains the name), and is ideal for one or two dogs. Your dog can pull a kick sled, with you adding most of the propulsion of kicking. Kick sleds do need a few modifications before you can hook up a dog up and go. One includes the addition of a bridle, which will need to be attached to your kick sled properly. The bridle allows the sled to follow the dogs safely around corners and gives greater control at higher speeds.

Related: Dogs Get A Kick Out Of Kicksledding

A kick sled is somewhat flexible. This flexibility allows you to turn the sled, much like you would a bike, by pushing on the handlebars to turn around corners. Some people aren’t fans of the flexibility, and think that the sleds are flimsy. I can assure you that kick sleds are anything but – the flexibility allows you to tackle corners, and push out on the runners to help stop the sled.

Kick sleds do best on flat groomed trails, but are forgiving enough that they can be run on sidewalks with a light covering of snow.

Dog Sled

There are lots of dog sleds to choose from, and each is built for a particular purpose. Traditional dog sleds are made of wood, while modern ones are made of light-weight plastic and metals. Dog sleds are designed for dogs to pull, instead of relying on human kicking power.  They are sturdy and built to handle the strain of dog power.

Related: How To Be an Expert Athletic Supporter at Dog Sled Races

Even if you have only a few dogs now, but you know that you plan to get more down the road, a dog sled is the way to go.

To steer the sled, the musher stands on the back and leans to control direction. Dog sleds are typically equipped with a brake, and larger teams require a snow hook. The brake can be used to control the speed of the sled down a hill or around a corner, but is unlikely to stop or even slow a larger, more powerful team.

Sleds are broken down into two general categories: basket and toboggan. Within these categories are hundreds of different designs and options, each providing at a specific purpose.

A basket-style sled usually has a flatbed that’s raised above two runners. The basket can be made of wood and is used to store gear or even give an injured dog a ride home. These sleds are ideal for use on groomed or packed tracked trails. They are typically the lighter of the two dog sleds, and this is the category that sprint-style racing sleds would fit into.

Toboggan sleds are similar to basket sleds, but the bed is mounted directly to the runners. These beds are usually made of plastic, which makes them ideal for skimming over the deeper snow of unpacked trails. A toboggan style sled has a lower center of gravity, and is the sled of choice when carrying passengers. They are built to be stiffer, which makes them more rugged, but also more challenging to steer.

There you have it.  Kick, basket or toboggan. Each sled is designed for a specific purpose, with every manufacturer adding something different to each make of its own design. But now that you’ve picked a style of sled, you can start to research the sled manufacturer that will perfectly fit your needs.

If at all possible, arrange a test drive on the model of sled you plan to purchase. Each sled handles a little differently, and you’re going to want a sled you are going to enjoy for years to come.

kev-robertsKevin Roberts lives for adventure. Together with his pack of rescue dogs and his husband, he spends as much time outdoors as possible. Kevin lives by the motto: “Get outside and play with your dogs!”


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